Bicycling Towards Urban Economic Development

A common complaint amongst retail owners in downtown locations is that making space for bicyclists via bike lanes and parking may discourage auto-oriented customers from frequenting their establishments. In this time when urban policymakers and residents are reexamining the benefits of density and alternative methods of transportation, this complaint is being called into question through a lens that retail owners (and policymakers) quickly understand… economics.

In Angie Schmitt’s recent article, More Evidence That Bike Facilities Are Good for Local Businesses, the author notes many recent studies demonstrate “that increased sales resulting from bike improvements outweigh losses incurred by having fewer car-driving customers.” Schmitt suggests that a parking space used by one car could provide space for multiple bikes, and therefore, multiple customers – a situation already understood and embraced in Portland.

But what if we take a step back and look at the macro level of this scenario? Can a city’s bicycle infrastructure be an attractive amenity luring new residents, and therefore potential new customers in the local economy? Will these new residents be the “highly educated” workers sought after by industry or entrepreneurs in their own right?  The City of Fort Collins and researchers at Colorado State University think the answers may be “yes” and will examine these questions in the proposed research project, “Do Bike Friendly Communities Attract and Retain Creative Workers? Assessing Cycling’s Economic Impact through Household Location Choices of Highly Educated Workers.” You can read more about that here.

As we continue to move forward in a post-recessionary economic malaise necessitating creative action, policymakers will increasingly look to local artisan economic activity to drive urban economic development. In this case, however, the economic activity may be bicycling instead.